"The Notebook" is the latest film adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel ("Message in a Bottle", "Walk to Remember"), and with it comes what you'd expect not only from the author's works, but from the genre. A fairly predictable romantic drama/weeper, the film manages to work its way out of the muck of cliches via fine direction and good performances.
The film opens with Noah (James Garner) reading a book to Allie (Gena Rowlands, the mother of director Nick Cassavettes), as Allie spends her days in an old folks' home. The book follows the 40's story of Noah (Ryan Gosling) and a young woman named Allie (Rachel McAdams), who gradually fall for one another. He's poor, she's rich and her parents are snotty jerks (the father looks like he's about to twirl his mustache with some evil plan), she's artistic, he's simple, she's...well, you get the idea - they're the couple from the opposite sides of the track, who fall for one another when they meet cute. This time, the meet cute takes place at a carnival, where he scales the ferris wheel to impress her and ask for a date, while she takes him down a notch by taking down his pants for the surrounding area to see.
Due mainly to her mother (Joan Allen)'s disapproval, the two of them break-up. She eventually goes on to college and a new boyfriend (James Marsden), while he enlists in the army. Years later, the two meet up again and their love rekindles anew. The movie is so spectacularly cheesy and syrupy it actually goes from being off-putting to almost fascinating. A total "soap opera" of a movie, the film manages just about every familiar romantic drama line in the book, all of which are helped along by a rather corny score from Aaron Zigman. As for the look and feel of the movie, it's quite pleasing: production design is excellent, the time period looks pretty authentic, the locations are gorgeous and the cinematography by Robert Fraisse is rich and attractive.
Still, the performances are good and work for this kind of material instead of against it. Gosling is subdued and thoughtful, while McAdams is spirited and strong in her portrayal. McAdams is especially good, showing off another side after being the leader of the popular crowd in "Mean Girls". Despite two performances that are quite a bit different from each other, the two manage a fine amount of chemistry. As for Garner and Rowlands, Rowlands doesn't have a role that requires a lot, but Garner makes a smallish role quite memorable, investing a lot of heart into an older gentleman who'll never leave his sweetheart's side. Supporting efforts are mixed, as James Marsden and Joan Allen are fairly one-dimensional.
This is the kind of movie that often really doesn't work for me - I can tell where it's headed, and I feel like I've been there before. Beyond that, it's sappy and melodramatic (although, to its credit, it holds back at times), with the material feeling very "soap opera"-ish. Yet, it's a great-looking production, with postcard glossy images, surprisingly solid pacing (despite my issues with the film, it still moved along surprisingly briskly) and very good performances.
VIDEO: "The Notebook" is presented by New Line in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 full-frame, with each edition presented on a separate side of a dual-sided/dual-layered DVD. The picture quality is generally first-rate, with only a couple of minor concerns. Sharpness and detail are very good, as the picture maintained fine sharpness and definition, with only a few of minor instances of softness (which seemed intentional - understandable, given the material.)
Some faults were present at times, but they didn't take away from the overall impression that greatly. Minimal edge enhancement was present in a handful of scenes, as well as some slight traces of shimmer and pixelation. Most of the movie proceeded without faults, as much of the film went by without fault.
Colors were handled quite well on this release, as the rich color palette (the strongly saturated reds of the opening credits) was nicely saturated and didn't seem smeary or otherwise flawed. Black level remained solid, while flesh tones looked accurate.
SOUND: "The Notebook" is presented by New Line in Dolby Digital 5.1-EX. Although the majority of the film presents little use (or little reason for use) of the rear speakers, there are a handful of scenes where the surrounds do come to life rather nicely. These include a brief battle sequence and the opening carnival. Audio quality was perfectly fine, with a rich, well-recorded score and clean, clear-sounding dialogue and effects.
EXTRAS: Author Nicholas Sparks and director Nick Cassavette each get their own audio commentary track. 12 deleted scenes are available, with optional commentary from the editor. These scenes run for a total of just over 28 minutes.
Next are a series of brief, glossy featurettes: "Nick Cassavettes: All in the Family" is an 11-minute look at the director and his work. We see him on-set and hear from the film's stars. "Nicholas Sparks: A Simple Story, Well Told" is a nearly 7-minute visit with the author, who chats about his writing and experiences with gaining an audience. Like the director's piece, it's a total love fest for Sparks - this time, it's folks from the book industry gushing over the author's work. "Locating the Notebook" talks about creating the film's time and place, as well as searching for locations. Finally, there's a short piece on "Casting Rachel and Ryan", the screen test for McAdams and a trailer.
Final Thoughts: "The Notebook" works despite itself - the movie is predictable and corny, but the performances work well enough to not only pull the picture together, but to make it work pretty decently. It's a fine idea for a rental on Valentine's Day weekend (the movie comes out on 2/8), or date night. New Line's DVD edition provides very good image quality, fine audio and a nice helping of supplemental features.